Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Beau Dick Burning His Masks

Would your opinion of an artwork change if you saw it in a gallery and were then informed that it was going to be intentionally destroyed in the near future? From a large collection of masks by Kwakwaka'wakw-Haida artist Beau Dick currently on display at Macaulay & Co, forty of the forty-nine pieces are set to be burned after the exhibition.

Image Courtesy of Just Art Gallery

It is true that these masks - as with many masks that are made for use rather than aesthetic appreciation - are a little rough around the edges, but Beau Dick is up there in the ranks amongst the Northwest Coast's best carvers. As one who studies and collects Northwest Coast art, and as one who views much First Nations art outside of its cultural context, I can't help but feel that some of those masks should be on my wall instead of on a bonfire. Beau says of the masks that are going to be burned: “It takes away any monetary value they have in this world and makes it real. What we have to do is recreate them — and that keeps them alive.” 

This will be the fourth time that these masks have been danced. Since four is significant number in Kwakwaka'wakw culture, these masks will be danced in four ceremonies this fall and then burned. Sarah Macaulay was co-founder of Vancouver's Blanket Gallery but has now ventured out on her own. She has always shown an interest in First Nations culture and masks. Macaulay & Co is located at 560 Seymour Street and this eclectic show runs until September 22, 2012.